Building Your Search

"Your first search won't be your last. Use what you learn from the results list to improve your search. It is much faster to modify your search than to look through hundreds of bad results."
–Capella librarian

Knowing how to put your search together will save you time and make your search as efficient as possible. Searching the Library databases is different than searching Google or other search engines. Build your search using the following techniques:

Combining Your Keywords: Boolean Operators
Boolean operators are the words AND, OR, and NOT. These words connect keywords, allowing you to define the relationships between keywords and get the results you want.

Operator What it does Examples
AND Placing AND between two keywords requires that any results you find contain BOTH keywords. The AND is used to narrow your search. Use it to connect two ideas that both need to be in the results you find. gambling AND beach

family friendly AND skiing

hotel AND waterpark
OR The OR lets you search for either keyword at the same time. Use it when you have multiple keywords that are synonyms. Palm tree OR beach

roller coaster OR amusement park
NOT The NOT operator excludes specific keywords. Be careful when using NOT: removing a keyword from your search results may eliminate useful comparison articles. beach NOT surf

cruise NOT caribbean

Using Parentheses with AND, OR, NOT
Searches with Boolean operators can get very complex, very fast. Parentheses make sure that the database does the search exactly the way you want. Parentheses in a database work exactly the same way as in a math formula: anything inside the parentheses is done first. Most of library databases, each of the search boxes works like a set of parentheses. But you can also add them yourself. Notice how the search changes when you add parentheses:

safari AND (South Africa OR Botswana) = a safari to either South Africa or Botswana

safari AND South Africa OR Botswana = a safari to South Africa or any material on Botswana

In the databases, you can let the search boxes organize your search like a set of parentheses:

For example, search for safari in the first search box and South Africa or Botswana in the second search box.

Article Database Shortcuts
Most databases allow you to use search symbols to enhance your search precision. While these vary from database to database, there are some very common ones that can be used in most library databases. Check with the database's search guide for specific help.

Symbol What it does Examples
Truncation - * Truncation allows you to get all the endings of a word while only typing in the beginning. Hik* = hiking, hiker, hike, hiked
Wildcard - ? The wildcard is used when a word changes its form by altering letters in the middle. Wom?n = women, women
G??se = goose, geese

Wom* = women, women, womankind, wombat, womb, etc.
Quotation marks - " " In few databases and all search engines, in order to search for an entire phrase, you will need to put them within quotes. When searching a long title it is best to use the quotation marks. "Buckingham Palace" in Google Search Engine

"Secrets to a Stress-free Vacation" in both Academic Search Premier and Google

Searching Specific Fields
Keywords can show up anywhere in a document record: title, author, abstract, article text, references, etc. If your keyword is the last word in the article–chances are it is not closely related to your subject. To solve that problem, focus your keywords in specific fields.

Here are some useful fields to search:

  • Title - Limit your keywords to search the title field when you are getting too many results.
  • Abstract - Limit your keywords to search the abstract field. The abstract is a condensed version of the article, so if a keyword shows up there, it's likely that the article is focused on that topic.
  • Author - Search by the author's name if you know it.
  • Full Text - Expand to search the full text if you have an obscure topic.

Field searches are very literal, and they aren't fool proof. A humorous title or an abstract with an unusual word choice may throw off your results. To avoid this, try subject searching.

Subject Searching
"Subject" is defined differently in the article databases. Databases are organized by employees at the database companies. They look at the content of the article, book, or report and assign several "subject terms" based on the main topics. You can add those "subject terms" to your search to hone in on your topic quickly.

Unfortunately, "subject terms" may not be obvious. Each database creates its own set of subject terms–sometimes called a thesaurus, subject, or topic list. The subject terms are listed in the article database and can be added to your search. You can browse the subject terms as well.

Once you know how to put your keywords together to make an efficient search strategy the next step is to pick a place to search.

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